ESG (environment, social, governance) has become a predominant concern at the pinnacles of business. Starting life in the early 2000s as a more robust successor to CSR (corporate social responsibility), ESG is now a concern for investors, shareholders and other stakeholders, as well as customers and regulators.
The modern enterprise’s ESG stance sends out strong market signals concerning risk and value because of what it says about a business’s attitude to the community it serves. The title of a 2004 UN report on the subject puts it best: “Who Cares Wins”.
In January, the GCC Exchanges Committee released a formal ESG metrics framework, listing 29 standards aligned with the World Federation of Exchanges and Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative. While implementation of the standards is not mandatory, the list offers helpful guidance on how to approach ESG issues such as carbon footprint, responsible energy and water usage, gender parity, workforce diversity, data privacy, and other ethical issues.
The causes of the evolution of corporate responsibility are no great mystery. Platformed individuals used to be limited to sports and show-business personalities and world leaders. Nowadays, anyone with Internet access can reach an audience of millions in a matter of hours. So, it is clear we have moved far beyond casual talking points. ESG is a corporate concern of PnL proportions. Having considered the possibility that winning may now be linked to caring, every business leader wants to be an ESG leader.
But there is another reinforcement to the “Who Cares Wins” argument. Good ESG may drive more positive customer engagement and hence, greater revenue, but it also allows organisations to cut costs by, for example, lowering energy consumption. And if a firm enjoys a good public image, then the best talent will flock to its doorstep. The quality of products and services being linked to the quality of employees, this means improvements to core offerings. And finally, if other companies in the value chain are pursuing strong ESG programmes, then they will be more careful about which companies they choose as partners. Better ESG means better vendors and more investors.
But if ESG were an easy deliverable, every organisation would be top of the maturity index by now. Challenges such as data collection and tracking are just the start. Those that are farthest along in their programmes will have figured out ways of automating data collection, but this requires careful design and must produce flexible data models that tie neatly into any system.
An ESG leader, assuming the organisation has created and filled such a role, is faced with a multifaceted realm. Requirements vary with industry, scale, geography and legal jurisdiction. He faces a complex highway lined with many stakeholders, some of whom are involved in planning, some in execution.
Programme leaders must take direction from the boardroom and C-suite while considering the views of middle management and coordinating the day-to-day implementation delivered by frontline staff. And they must keep abreast of the latest regulations and standards, such as those published by the GCC Exchanges Committee.
Dos and don’ts
Enterprises cannot wait for ESG to come to them; they must be proactive. Right now, businesses must assess their status quo. What metrics they use and how effective they are will reveal areas of improvement.
ESG goals and targets should be easy to understand by everyone from the most senior to the most junior. Achievements must be designed for easy measurability and deliverables should be assigned to the right people.
ESG is for naught without tight monitoring and measuring. Gathered well, the data will expose risks and difficulties so that mitigation plans can be devised. Sometimes the processes themselves will be the problem, and ESG teams should have no hesitation in updating procedures where this is found to be the case. Indeed, continuous improvement should be baked into the design of the ESG programme from day one. Periodic assessments should be poised for the replacement of roles and processes that are not delivering on corporate ambitions.
By now, you should have realised that achieving all these objectives without technology would be problematic in the extreme. We have already established that ESG is innately individual to the scale and industry of the enterprise, possibly unique to a particular business model, and fraught with continuous change. So, trying to procure an off-the-shelf solution for all things ESG is unrealistic. Organisations that are serious about building the tools they need to achieve their goals should consider low-code or no-code development platforms.
The argument for low code
These solutions will allow the people who know the business best to build the data-collection, monitoring and reporting tools needed to make ESG matter and deliver value. ESG goals can differ greatly from one organisation to the next – so there’s little ability for enterprises to rely on a ‘standardised’ tech stack that will deliver the digital transformation needed to empower their ESG endeavours.
Levering low code platforms will enable them to overcome this hurdle and develop the customised application they need to make crucial data available to all stakeholders and enable them to visualise and monitor potential bottlenecks at all points in time.
Automate a process with low-code and watch environmental footprint plummet. Build a new workflow and watch governance improve. Adapt to changing regulations and goals. Expand operations to accommodate new roles, customers, vendors, and partners. Incorporate new industry standards, metrics, and data points with ease. Improve data collection. Connect to more technology platforms – such as community engagement and collaboration tools – without a headache. Improve decision making and streamline audits by giving concerned parties the reports they need in the format they need, when they need them.
Policies and frameworks are constantly evolving and business leaders and managers who are driving the ESG initiatives need to customise their operations and processes based on that. If the existing tech stack isn’t agile enough to adhere to these changes, the impact could be dire. At every intersection of these changes, business leaders have to rely on IT to implement their vision. Low-code and no-code development platforms create a collaborative environment for business and IT to work together in meeting their enterprise’s ESG goals. This is an extraordinarily powerful paradigm for a business that may have a unique business model. And when it comes to ESG goals, the low-code option seems tailor-made for the challenges ahead.
Dinesh Varadharajan is the chief product officer at Kissflow